Category Archives: poetry as power

Poetry Matters One Soul and One Orbit at a Time

I think poetry, if it’s going to be really engaging and engaged, has to be able to come at the issues of our lives from all kinds of angles and all kinds of ways: loudly and quietly, angrily and soothingly, with comedy and with dead seriousness. […] Our lives are worth every risk, every manner of approach.

— Tim Seibles

Part one of the DV tribute to National Poetry Month is here: A World is Right When We Learn to Preserve and Embrace the Word Like a Poet

The question always comes up: Does poetry matter? Better yet, does art matter? This in a time of cult of celebrity, cult of nothingness, the cult of instant fame and repetitive prequels and sequels.

Even though everything is new under the sun in the 21st century, the way this country – Western Civilization, that is – rolls, more and more so-called artists, and that includes poets, are the dust bunny kings and queens. We aren’t taking chances – the big chances we have to take to stave off predatory, parasitic capitalism.

So, true art counts. If you can’t figure out what true art is and have to employ some arbiter of style and humanities to do the interpreting and defining for you, then you are lost in la-la land.

These are, of course, cynical questions, possibly steeped in a Western mindset where business as usual is all tied to the economics of relationships, and that includes the co-option of everything in American society wrapped around the barbed wire gulag that is Capitalism. No matter how frail the artistic expression is, or nuanced or nascent, the cynic would ask, “Does poetry in a time of our doomsday clock one minute to midnight and with 410 ppm Co2 in the atmosphere, in addition to the reality we are surviving, barely, under the strafing toxic clouds of the of one warped super power advancing in every aspect of humanity’s lives, including art, for total control of every blink, click of the mouse, lifted hand in artistic disbelief or fealty, count, matter, mean anything?”

Doing The Math?

by Raymond Nat Turner / August 19th, 2018

Knitting my brow, I’m
wondering whether we
have a word
Problem—
numerical,
mathematical,
logical,
or
political
Problem?

Scratching my head,
searching
for its formula I found:
Money Talks
to
our
representatives
Year-round and
Votes
boots, batons, fists, tasers,
Glocks, and cuffs cutting
off circulation—
24/7—
365…

Yet, I’m tutored,
3
minutes
2/4 Dance
is our
1
chance to
Advance…?

We are what we read, what we watch, what we think, what we discuss, what we believe, what we profess, what we say, and, then, what we buy, consumer, eat, build, destroy, create, throwaway, what we buy, sell, purchase, steal, take, give away, and what we drink – the Kool-Aid of Empire or the elixir of rebellion and revolution.

There will be a better day, and we have that thumb and toe hold inside, as poets – and as artists;  which in the end we call to them as our guides and our echoes, and the reflectors of universal humanity and chroniclers of struggle and celebration of glory in a human culture, in the individual. This planetary and spiritual life can sometimes be best reflected in and by and for “the poet.” Whether we see art as a song of the self, the poetry of creation and creativity, for those who create, show, and then sometimes lucky enough to live off of the stuff they create, somehow we/they have to have a more revered place in societies, and revered spaces for all humanity to partake in the action of being in-with-for-outside-inside the artist’s mind and heart, belly and soul.

But it’s poetry, no less, and we have this April as NPM, national poetry month. It’s not all razzle-dazzle in small communities where I live and work in – Oregon’s Central Coast, Lincoln City, Newport, Toledo, Siletz. Because in reality, a certain cultural critical mass has to cluster around so many elements to the humanities and arts as worthy of a cross-sectional interest in a community for those of us to put weight on the more lofty things like the arts, and in this case, the written and spoken word, poetry. Small towns or less populated communities and regions just don’t have the density of people who are willing to sacrifice a lot to try and be an expressive artist. Poets are like monks, Tibetan monks, in a small place like where I currently live.

If you haven’t met a poet, then the unusualness of it might intimidate.

However, there is some poetry going on here, and some of it is celebrated, in very small and rare moments. Read the piece I wrote on Kim Stafford, Oregon’s poet laureate here. He came to town and had a standing room only venue at the local public library! Here, Flotsam Central Oregon. Then my poem about interacting with Kim Stafford: Somewhere in a Writer’s Workshop He Learns the Lines from “Oregon Trail“,

Think about how difficult it is to get the attention of small-town America when so many colluding forces of economic pain and retrenchment of services and erosion in the public good/health/welfare/safety nets that really hit these 10,000 and 15,000 population communities that are tied to mostly servicing tourists and with timber and fish.

Then, when and where and how can we get overworked teachers and over-stimulated movers and shakers of a community to concentrate just a bit on the vitality of poets in their communities to exhibit that wonderful “business” of translating sight, sound, touch, taste and perception, philosophy, universality, psychology, intellect, joy, struggle, pain and transcendence?

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility — William Wordsworth

A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great — Randall Jarrell

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.  —  Percy Bysshe Shelley

Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people. — Adrian Mitchell

Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters. — ee cummings

Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.  — Carl Sandburg

I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.  —  Bob Dylan

Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.  — Dylan Thomas

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.  — Robert Frost

The poet is the priest of the invisible. — Wallace Stevens

Poetry is, at bottom, a criticism of life.  — Matthew Arnold

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.  — Emily Dickinson

There you have it, “as if the top of my head were taken off,” that is poetry. What more of a graphic image do we need to follow the crumbs there? Poetry —  That process allows humanity to share the act of being, because without words, there are no ideas, nothing, really, to bring forth the passing of knowledge. Naming of plants, planets, porpoises, peoples, it all involves the art form of discovery and teaching. What better way than to draw people to it with a poem.

That brain surgery Emily Dickinson alludes to is the value of poetry, everyday – it comes to people in unexpected ways, a dance, inside, especially for those who never thought the poet would emanate from the soul of a biker or street walker or drug user or incarcerated man or high-falluten debutante.

All sorts of ways to study and express poetry, categorizing, throwing movements into time-frames, geographical locations, cultural, ethnic, racial, national, self-identity framing modalities. Think of a poetic movement or some other poetry foundation, and then there you go. In today’s parlance, should stave off the madness. Below are a few poems, challenging, possibly tied to what this essay is attempting to get at — is there a form for ecological thinking, deep ecology, psychology of Sixth Mass Extinction, a sociological consideration tied to an earth/Earth without ice?

Form as in poetry!?

Ecopoetics

Similar to ethnopoetics in its emphasis on drawing connections between human activity—specifically the making of poems—and the environment that produces it, ecopoetics rose out of the late 20th-century awareness of ecology and concerns over environmental disaster. A multidisciplinary approach that includes thinking and writing on poetics, science, and theory as well as emphasizing innovative approaches common to conceptual poetry, ecopoetics is not quite nature poetry. The influential journal Ecopoetics, edited by Jonathan Skinner, publishes writing that explores “creative-critical edges between making and writing” and features poets such as Jack Collom, Juliana Spahr, and Forrest Gander.

This is not enough, though, now is it?

What short stories and poems will arise from the intersections of heart, mind, soul, belly and the cascading realities of a world on the skids?

To that point, thousands of miles from Siberia, Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks found freeze-ups of permafrost shifting from mid-January to as late as March, happening since 2014.

Additionally, from National Geographic: “It’s worrisome,’ says Sue Natali, a permafrost expert, also with Woods Hole, who saw an active layer not re-freeze recently during a research trip to Alaska’s Yukon region. ‘When we see things happening that haven’t happened in the lifetime of the scientists studying them, that should be a concern.”

The stakes in the Arctic are high. It’s common knowledge that if permafrost layers are consistently exposed to thawing, consequences can be hard, fast and not pleasant. Counter intuitively, once it’s unfrozen, permafrost can potentially release GHG year-round, not only in summertime. And, that’s a huge problem without a solution, unless well-beforehand Homo sapiens halt GHG emissions. No chance.

Dangerous territory, looking at climate, earth, raging tipping points, put into the prism of poetry. Many many Americans coming out of MFA schools, well, this is verboten, pushing themes or social conscious issues as the germination of poetry.

Some Effects of Global Warming in Lackawanna County

By Jay Parini

The maples sweat now, out of season.
Buds pop eyes in wintry bushes
as the birds arrive, not having checked
the calendars or clocks. They scramble
in the frost for seeds, while underground
a sobbing starts in roots and tubers.
Ice cracks easily along the bank.
It slides in gullies where a bear, still groggy,
steps through coiled wire of the weeds.
Kids in T-shirts run to school, unaware
that summer is a long way off.
Their teachers flirt with off-the-wall assignments,
drum their fingers on the sweaty desktops.
As for me, my heart leaps high—
a deer escaping from the crosshairs,
skipping over barely frozen water
as the surface bends and splinters underfoot.

I can hear those MFA’s now — “Oh god, not more of this tripe. Poetry is about me, us, me myself and I, about angst and living hard, about my bi-polar disorder, about me in the system, me in the matrix, about me and my feelings and how I see the world.”

I have had argument after argument about the valueness of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a program that was borne of Cold War logic and the greatness of America (sic, sic).  Interestingly, the Workshop’s second director, Paul Engle, embodied everything the 1950s conservative mind embodied. Read this piece on the MFA program here, How Iowa Flattened Literature With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and egg-headed abstraction. The damage to writing lingers.

To have read enough to feel the oceanic movement of events and ideas in history; to have experienced enough to escape the confines of a personal provincialism; to have distanced yourself enough from your hang-ups and pettiness to create words reflecting the emotional complexity of minds beyond your own; to have worked with language long enough to be able to wield it beautifully; and to have genius enough to find dramatic situations that embody all that you have lived and read, is rare. It’s not something that every student of creative writing—in the hundreds of programs up and running these days—is going to pull off. Maybe one person a decade will pull it off. Maybe one person every half century will really pull it off.

Of course, we live in an age that cringes at words like “greatness”—and also at the notion that we’re not all great. But ages that didn’t cringe at greatness produced great writing without creative-writing programs. And people who attend creative-writing programs for the most part wish to write great things. It’s sick to ask them to aspire but not to aspire too much. An air of self-doubt permeates the discipline, showing up again and again as the question, “Can writing be taught?”

Faced with this question, teachers of creative writing might consider adopting (as a few, of course, already do) a defiant rather than resigned attitude, doing more than supervising the building of the bases of pyramids. They might try to get beyond the senses. Texts worth reading—worth reading now, and worth reading 200 years from now—coordinate the personal with the national or international; they embed the instant in the instant’s full context and long history. It’s what the Odyssey does and what Middlemarch does and what Invisible Man does and what Jonathan Franzen’s and Marilynne Robinson’s recent novels try to do. But to write like this, you’re going to have to spend some time thinking.  — Eric Bennett

That’s a whole other story, MFA programs and the flattening of literature, fiction, and, alas, the same holds true of poetry. Maybe not, though, since how do poets learn to channel their voice and to develop writerly ways? Maybe in groups, sure, workshops in some senior center, right, but why not schools; i.e., community colleges and universities? I’ve taught a few writing classes in colleges, and outside colleges. Poetry is a tough one to get young and old to wrap their brains around, but, alas, poetry is where the immediate song of the person gets to lift off like a kite on a good windy beach day!

Poetry and the environment?

What does Jean-Paul Satre say about African poets? Black Orpheus

When you removed the gag that was keeping these black mouths shut, what were you hoping for? That they would sing your praises? Did you think that when they raised themselves up again, you would read adoration in the eyes of these heads that our fathers had forced to bend down to the very ground? Here are black men standing, looking at us, and I hope that you–like me–will feel the shock of being seen. For three thousand years, the white man has enjoyed the privilege of seeing without being seen; he was only a look –the light from his eyes drew each thing out of the shadow of its birth; the whiteness of his skin was another look, condensed light. The white man –white because he was man, white like daylight, white like truth, white like virtue –lighted up the creation like a torch and unveiled the secret white essence of beings. Today, these black men are looking at us, and our gaze comes back to our own eyes; in their turn, black torches light up the world and our white heads are no more than Chinese lanterns swinging in the wind. A black poet –unconcerned with us–whispers to the woman he loves:

Naked woman, black woman
Dressed in your color which is life .. .
Naked woman, dark woman,
Firm fleshed ripe fruit, somber ecstasies of black wine.

and our whiteness seems to us to be a strange livid varnish that
keeps our skin from breathing –white tights, worn out at the
elbows and knees, under which we would find real human flesh
the color of black wine if we could remove them. We think we
are essential to the world — suns of its harvests, moons of its
tides; we are no more than its fauna, beasts. Not even beasts:

These gentlemen from the city
These proper gentlemen
Who no longer know how to dance in the evening by moonlight
Who no longer know how to walk on the flesh of their feet
Who no longer know how to tell tales by the fireside . . .

Formerly Europeans with divine right, we were already feeling our dignity beginning to crumble under American or Soviet looks; Europe was already no more than a geographical accident, the peninsula that Asia shoves into the Atlantic. We were hoping at least to find a bit of our greatness reflected in the domesticated eyes of the Africans. But there are no more domesticated eyes: there are wild and free looks that judge our world.

Maybe poetry needs some of that crumbling under the look of a new Anthropocene world!

There is Kickstarter, and an Earth Day 2019 goal of a book of poems that looks at climate, ecology, us inside the environment, Gaia.

The cover will feature photography by Daniel Bosma depicting an "aerial view of amazing natural shapes and textures created by tidal changes," with design by VJB/Scribe.

Elizabeth J. Coleman’s new anthology, Here: Poems for the Planet, published by Copper Canyon Press and live on Kickstarter now, is a collection of poems from over 125 authors — Pulitzer Prize winners, Poet Laureates, activists, emerging writers, and youth poets as young as six — that confront climate change. It has “an arc that bends towards hope,” says Copper Canyon editor Elaina Ellis, who worked on the book with Coleman.

“Poetry is moving and touching in a way that dry facts are not,” Coleman says. “You can reach people’s hearts. If you tell someone about the hell we’re heading towards, people just despair. They become indifferent. It’s too big. It seems very different when you talk about ‘the polar bear drifting out of history on a wedge of melting ice,’” as a poem by Paul Guest puts it.

Here is the long list of poets and translations of poems (125) in this collection.

A unique way to create activism at the end of the collection:

The Union of Concerned Scientists created a Guide to Activism just for this project, to follow the poetry in Here: Poems for the Planet. After the poems have helped you feel what’s at stake, the guide will help you take action toward a better future.

The guide walks through best practices for anyone who wishes to:

  • Contact your Representatives and others holding governmental power
  • Put pressure on corporations to commit to green practices
  • Communicate with media about environmental issues and actions
  • Connect with others in the community who are working for environmental justice, against climate change, or on an issue you’re passionate about

By mobilizing scientists and combining their voices with those of advocates, educators, business people, and other concerned citizens, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has amassed an impressive history of accomplishments. UCS scientists and engineers develop and implement innovative, practical solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems—from combating global warming and developing sustainable ways to feed, power, and transport ourselves, to fighting misinformation, advancing racial equity, and reducing the threat of nuclear war.

The editor of Here: Poems for the Planet has chosen to donate all royalties from the book (including those copies reserved through this Kickstarter campaign) to UCS.

Here you go, Earth Day coming up, and National Poetry Month in a time of despise, syphilitic tweets, uncompromising crass commercialization of humanity. A few picks, hodgepodge style.

Remember

Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

Once the World Was Perfect

By Joy Harjo

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

Nolan,

By Ed Roberson

The apparition of these faces in the crowd…)
riding the bullet train
the view passes by so fast
it is either a blur they say

or —like night lightning
strobes the raindrops
to a stop in midair

in that soundless moment—
maybe from the train you can glimpse
waiting there

one of those famous petals stopped still
in midair holding its wave to you
in place.    write us

and tell us if
this is so.

Storm Fear

By Robert Frost

When the wind works against us in the dark,
And pelts the snow
The lower chamber window on the east,
And whispers with a sort of stifled bark,
The beast,
‘Come out! Come out!’—
It costs no inward struggle not to go,
Ah, no!
I count our strength,
Two and a child,
Those of us not asleep subdued to mark
How the cold creeps as the fire dies at length,—
How drifts are piled,
Dooryard and road ungraded,
Till even the comforting barn grows far away
And my heart owns a doubt
Whether ‘tis in us to arise with day
And save ourselves unaided.

Song of Myself, 22

By Walt Whitman

You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,
I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers,
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,
We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.

Sea of stretch’d ground-swells,
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths,
Sea of the brine of life and of unshovell’d yet always-ready graves,
Howler and scooper of storms, capricious and dainty sea,
I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases.

Partaker of influx and efflux I, extoller of hate and conciliation,
Extoller of armies and those that sleep in each others’ arms.

I am he attesting sympathy,
(Shall I make my list of things in the house and skip the house that supports them?)

I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.

What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent,
My gait is no fault-finder’s or rejecter’s gait,
I moisten the roots of all that has grown.

Did you fear some scrofula out of the unflagging pregnancy?
Did you guess the celestial laws are yet to be work’d over and rectified?

I find one side a balance and the antipodal side a balance,
Soft doctrine as steady help as stable doctrine,
Thoughts and deeds of the present our rouse and early start.

This minute that comes to me over the past decillions,
There is no better than it and now.

What behaved well in the past or behaves well to-day is not such a wonder,
The wonder is always and always how there can be a mean man or an infidel.

**

Early in the book, Ishmael (Daniel Quinn, 1992) a man, the narrator, answers a newspaper ad that says:

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

The narrator meets the teacher — Ishmael, a thousand-pound gorilla who communicates telepathically. Using the Socratic method, Ishmael implores the narrator to think for himself on “how things came to be this way” and to come to the understanding that our culture has been enacting a story from the book of Genesis: that Man is here to conquer the earth.

Ishmael separates humans into two groups — “Leavers” and “Takers.” “Leavers” formed cultures that thrived for thousands of years before the agricultural revolution — hunters and gatherers, herders, indigenous societies. Those cultures lived lightly and took only what they needed. “Takers” are us — the people who killed or annexed those cultures and continue to do so; logging and farming in the Amazon threatens some of the last uncontacted tribes on Earth.

“Mother Culture teaches you that this is as it should be,” Ishmael tells the narrator. “Except for a few thousand savages scattered here and there, all the peoples of the earth are now enacting this story. This is the story man was born to enact [according to the mythology], and to depart from it is to resign from the human race itself. … There’s no way out of it except through death.”

Unlike “Leaver” societies, which sustained themselves and the natural world for thousands of years, our “Taker” society will run out of things to kill and will die. Quinn likens the agricultural revolution to humans’ first attempts at flight. Those attempts failed because we tried to mimic a bird. Only when we discovered the law of aerodynamics did we learn to fly.

Through “Ishmael,” Quinn argues that no law or theory underpins “Taker” culture — and that’s why it has been in free fall since its adoption.

Quinn emphasizes that the natural world, which includes “Leaver” cultures, sustains itself through what he calls the law of limited competition. Under this peace-keeping law, he says, you may not hunt down competitors or deny them food or access to it. You also may not commit genocide against your competition.

“And only once in all the history of this planet has any species tried to live in defiance of this law — and it wasn’t an entire species, it was only one people, those I’ve named the Takers,” Ishmael tells the narrator. “Ten thousand years ago, this one people said, ‘No more. Man was not meant to be bound by this law,’ and they began to live in a way that flouts the law at every point.” Source: Pete Reinwald